Archives For October 2011

The Symphony

Allison Stevens —  October 26, 2011 — 5 Comments

I went to the symphony last night to hear Mendelssohn’s violin concerto in E minor.  Stunning music. And the violin soloist’s (Augustin Hadelich) playing was flawless. As usual, beautiful music takes my mind in a million different places.

Apparently, Mendelssohn doubted his ability to pull this piece off. He wrote it for his friend Ferdinand David and at one point told him, “If I have a few propitious days, I’ll bring you something. But the task is not an easy one. You ask that it should be brilliant, but how can anyone like me do this?”

My mind wandered to a friend of mine who is struggling very much in her relationships. She was deeply wounded by her family, namely her mother and father, and her injuries are so severe that she doubts God is enough to heal her. She doesn’t say that she doubts God, but her beliefs and actions indicate that she does. She’s so wounded that she doesn’t even think she needs healing. Now she is latching on to something other than her faith in God to find life.

She’s exhilarated because for years she lived in a prison, she says. But now she feels “free” because she believes she’s found the answer to her problems. She believes she found the way out.

The only problem with her solution is that she’s trading one prison for another. What she’s going for contradicts something that God is clear about. God’s Word tells us one thing and she is doing the opposite.

How does a person who is so hurt and who believes that a new path will change everything for the better (a path that will lead to destruction), be convinced that she can do what God wants her to do?  I’m sure that she must feel, deep in her soul, like Mendelssohn, “…how can anyone like me do this?”

Well, we can’t on our own.  This is where the Holy Spirit comes in. He will show us the way; He carries us through the moments we feel like we can’t go one more step.

My heart aches for my friend because I understand the pain she has. No, I didn’t go through it personally, but I know what it feels like to think “The task is not an easy one. How can someone like me do this?”

So as her friend, what do I do?

I wait patiently. I love her. I pray for her. Encourage her. This path will end and she will need a friend at the end of it.  I hope I can be that friend to her.

The moral of this story is:  go to the symphony. The music will help you think about important things. Even brilliant musicians like Mendelssohn doubted his abilities.

Restoration revisited

Tim Jackson —  October 24, 2011 — 6 Comments

So, how’s God restoring the brokenness in your life or the life of someone you love? Maybe it’s breaking free from an enslaving addiction or severing an abusive relationship that’s been sucking the life out of you for way too long. Whatever your story of brokenness, God has a restoration plan that’s custom made for you and will blow your mind.

Frank Graeff experienced just that as a pastor who went through some ve­ry dif­fi­cult tri­als.  Graeff was wrestling through a time of profound de­spond­en­cy, doubt and phys­ic­al pain. When he turned to God’s Word, 1 Peter 5:7 was the text that caught his eye and touched his heart: “casting all your anxieties on him (God), because he cares for you.”

Peter’s words provided a level of com­fort and encouragement that–while not relieving his pain–bolstered his heart with the tender reassurance of God’s loving care: “He cares for you.” Af­ter med­i­ta­ting on that truth, Graeff was inspired to write the lyri­cs to a song that reverberated from a grateful heart that knew what it meant to struggle with despair:

Does Jesus care when my heart is pained Too deeply for mirth and song
As the burdens press, and the cares distress, And the way grows weary and long?

Refrain:
O yes, He cares I know He cares! His heart is touched with my grief
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary, I know my Savior cares

Does Jesus care when my way is dark With a nameless dread and fear?
As the daylight fades into deep night shades, Does He care enough to be near?

Does Jesus care when I’ve tried and failed To resist some temptation strong
When for my deep grief I find no relief Tho my tears flow all the night long?

Does Jesus care when I’ve said goodbye To the dearest on earth to me
And my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks Is it aught to Him? does He see?

So, if you have ever wondered like most of us have as to whether or not Jesus cares about the struggles and pain you are currently facing that seem insurmountable, Frank’s answer is a resounding “Yes!” And I agree.

If you have a story of pain and struggle where you’ve experience the restoration of the God who cares, please feel free to share your story to encourage others along the path that they are not alone and can make it too.

Restoration plans

Tim Jackson —  October 18, 2011 — 1 Comment

I recently spent some time with a pastor friend who is heavily invested in restoring broken lives in a rural community in Southeastern Kansas. After all, isn’t that what pastors do? That’s what Karl does. He, and many other pastors like him, pour themselves into a community in an Isaiah-like role (Isa. 61:1-2) that mirrors the Jesus that they love and follow (Luke 4:18-19). Why? “Because the spirit of the Lord has anointed them to preach the good news to the poor” and “to bind up (i.e. restore) the brokenhearted . . .”

“Preach the Word; Love the People,” is Karl’s motto. I like that. He lives that.

But Karl has also recently taken on a unique kind of restoration project that is a real metaphor for what he does with people.

Do you know what it is?

Take a guess.

Any ideas?

Come on, you’ve got to have some ideas.

Take a shot.

The year?

The make?

The model?

Give up?

That’s okay. I didn’t know what it was either until I finally asked “What year is that?” Well, if you guessed that it’s a ’54 Chevy truck, you’d be right on.

But open the hood and you’re in for a surprise, because there’s nothing inside. I mean nothing. No engine. No transmission. Nothing.

Open the cab doors and you find the same thing. Nothing. No gauges. No gas pedal. No brake either. Just 4 wheels, a frame, and a body. She’s just the hollowed out shell of her former glory that’s been stripped out for parts. (Oh, and don’t ask me why cars and trucks always are referred to in the feminine gender. That’s a discussion for another day.)

But I digress . . .

There’s a few observations that my friend shared with me about what he affectionately referred to as his “Kansas yard art.” First, he’s had a lot of interest from folks he’s never had the opportunity to talk to because of it. Quite often a new conversation starts out along the lines of, “Hey, ain’t you the guy with the old blue Chevy in the yard? What are you going to do with it?”

His response: “Restore her.” But not just back to OEM specs (For you non-gearheads, that’s Original-Equipment-Manufacterer specifications). Oh, no, he’s got plans to install a snappy rebuilt powerplant  with some spunk, pair it up with a transmission and rear end that will throw a little gravel–if you know what I mean. Nothing fancy is planned for the exterior, but a little screamin’ machine hidden underneath an understated exterior.

Second, his goal is not merely to have fun restoring a vintage truck that had long since been forgotten, overlooked, and given up on by many–although I know he’ll have fun doing it. Rather, it’s the conversations that are instigated over “that old blue truck” that leads towards a renewed vision for a restored hope in God as the Ultimate Restorationist. He takes broken down, discarded, overlooked, and forgotten lives and sets about the process of restoring them not to their original specifications, but to rebuild their hearts and lives better than they ever dreamed possible.

Karl sees the potential in an old truck, just like he sees the potential in peoples’ lives. And that’s a reflection of his belief in a God who sees our potential for restoration better than we can see ourselves.

God has restoration plans for each of us. Sometimes, amidst the rust, dents, and broken parts of our lives we can miss His vision for us. But He is not discouraged. Nor is He deterred. Listen to His heart for restoration . . .

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you  and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. You will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

I want to submit to God’s restoration plans in my life. And, like Karl, I want to help others find that new hope and future in God’s vision for restoration in others too.

And . . . I hope to get back to Kansas next year . . . and maybe get a ride in that old truck that everyone’s talking about. Because restoration is a beautiful thing. People know it when they see it . . . or in this case, when it rumbles past them sounding real sweet.

 

This quote from Bob Marley (1945-1981) caught my attention because it’s poignant, true, honest, pure.

It leaves me questioning, who is worth suffering for?

My children of course; that one is easy.

But must I suffer for someone who has evil intentions towards me, someone who is hurting the essence of who I am?

I don’t think so and this is why:

Our dignity is all you and I really have. When that is assaulted, we choose whether to protect it or allow it to be destroyed.  

We suffer to spread good things like love, faith, and kindness. When we suffer for these things, we’re spreading goodwill to all men, not promulgating evil.  Here are two sets of examples that some of us have been face with. Choose which group you’d suffer for.

Example set 1:  Do you suffer for the husband who is so absentminded that he forgets your anniversary?  Do you suffer for the wife who frequently burns your toast? Do you suffer for the husband or wife who can’t keep the house clean to your liking or who lost his or her job due to down-sizing? Do you suffer for the spouse who, because of past sexual abuse, really struggles in the area of physical intimacy? Do you suffer for and with the spouse battling cancer?

Example set 2:  Do you suffer for the husband who hits you? Do you suffer for the wife who mocks you and laughs at your attempts to make a connection with her? Do you suffer for the husband who turns every argument around making it all about you and how you’ve failed?  Do you suffer for the wife who calls you horrible names? Do you suffer for the spouse who withholds affection and emotional closeness from you even though you’ve done nothing to warrant that kind of withdrawal?

The difference between the two sets of examples is one of intentionality. The purpose of the second group is to belittle, put down, degrade, control, to assault your dignity. The first group is being human; while the second group is being. . . well, downright evil. Evil seeks to put people in prisons. Love sets us free.

If love sets us free, then let love set you free from an abusive relationship. You’re not obligated to hang around for your spouse (or anyone) to completely destroy your sense of identity. Your dignity – protect it and you’ll be free.

 

Places To Belong

Jeff Olson —  October 6, 2011 — 1 Comment

In his book, Befriending the Stranger, Jean Vanier (founder of L’Arche) shared this gripping exchange he once had with a man who was in prison:

“I remember my visit to a top security prison in Kingston, Ontario. I told the prisoners about the men and women we have welcomed in l’Arche–their pain, their sense of failure and rejection, their depression, sometimes their self-mutilation…I knew that I was in fact telling them their own story, the story of their lives, their experience of rejection, grief, insecurity, and failure.”

“At the end of my talk one of the inmates got up and screamed at me: ‘You! You’ve had an easy life! You do not understand what we are living! When I was four years old, I saw my mother raped right in front of me! When I was seven, I was sold by my father for sex. When I was thirteen the police came to get me. If anyone else comes into this prison to talk about love I will kick his bloody head in!'”

Jean Vanier continued, “I listened to him but did not know what to say or do. It was as if he had me against the wall. I prayed and then I said: ‘It’s true what you say. I do not know what you have lived. But what I do know is that everything you have just told me is important. People outside the prison often judge you without knowing your pain…'”

“When the question time was over I went up to the man and I shook his hand. I asked him his name…I was inspired to ask him whether he was married and when he said ‘Yes’ I asked him to tell me about his wife. This man who had been so violent, who had seemed to have such hatred in him, broke down in tears. He told me about his wife, who was in Montreal in a wheelchair. He had not seen her for two years! I was in front of a wounded, vulnerable little child, weeping, crying out for love and tenderness.”

Vanier went on to add, “In the midst of all the violence and corruption of the world, God invites us today to create new places of belonging, places of sharing, of peace and kindness, places where no-one needs to defend himself or herself; places where each one is loved and accepted with one’s own fragility, abilities and disabilities.”

I don’t know  of a more powerful way to show the heart of Jesus than to give hurting and lost people from all walks of life a place to belong.  A place where issues are addressed, but only once love and non-condemning friendships are established (Lk. 19:1-9; John 8:1-11). A place where they are not judged and singled-out, but rather befriended and eventually encouraged to pursue a relationship with Jesus, and through His grace become all He intends for them to be.

BTW…L’Arche (a network of communities Jean Vanier established for those with intellectual disabilities ) is the the French word for Noah’s Ark.

 

 

The Bride

Allison Stevens —  October 5, 2011 — 10 Comments

Imagine a bride standing in the doorway ready to walk down the aisle to marry her groom. She’s glowing with beauty. Her dress is perfectly white and she’s immaculate.

Then splatters of mud, no more like red Georgia clay, come flying towards her and stains her gown. And as she’s standing there crying, a pimple pops up on her nose. 

Some days, spiritually speaking, I feel like the bride of Christ before the mud-slinging. But other times,  when I haven’t really taken care, I feel like the pimply girl with dirt on her dress. I go through ups and downs in my time with the Lord, reading His Word, praying, and meditating. The down times are when I feel like the pimply bride with dirt on her dress.

But Jesus cleans me up when I call out to Him. I think He loves messes like me because then He gets to show off His mercy, love, and forgiveness muscles to the world. It’s Him who cleans me up, not me.  All I can do is be there for the washing of the Word. I don’t actually do the purifying. Jesus does that.

“. . . Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25.)

I can tell when I need a good scrubbing when I become negative or I completely doubt my ability to do anything right. Or I start gossiping. Or I let my enemy whisper lies to me without fighting back with the truth and I get discouraged. Or I covet what someone else has.  Or a whole bunch of other ugly things happen. And if I don’t pay attention, that gunk in my heart hardens into a disgusting crusty mess in my soul. I’m not talking about after days of neglect; I’m referring to sometimes milliseconds of neglect. But unlike my oven, I’m not self-cleaning, so I need help.  

My help comes from the Word which makes me clean and fresh. Ephesians 5:26 says that it is through the word of God that we are cleansed. The Word renews me, and helps me deal with the gunk in the corners (sin) of my heart and mind. The Word smoothes out wrinkles that have developed. The Word washes away stains that have accumulated and helps deal with the blemishes I have. To do this, I must meditate on the Word day and night. 

I don’t want to stay the pimpled-faced, gown-stained bride. I want to be a beautiful bride for Christ. I’m sure you do, too.  (Guys, is it difficult for you to identify with this picture?  I’ve often wondered about that.) Let’s put on the perfectly white, unstained, wrinkle-free gown, which to me, represents Christ. Let’s be immersed in the Word of God so that we can be cleansed from our impurities. I’m not talking about simply changing our behavior. That may be a result of the inward cleansing we experience when we meditate on Scripture. But we shouldn’t focus on outward appearances. Let’s focus on our hearts, readying ourselves for our groom, Jesus.

Jesus is the Word and He makes us clean; without pimples, wrinkles, or stains.

I just came off of a great weekend with my son in woods of Northern Michigan. We slept out in a tent, cooked our food over the campfire or Coleman stove, drank the best coffee out of blue tin cups, and sat together in a duck blind for 2 days opening up the new duck season.

As I sat at my desk this morning contemplating what to share with you today, my eyes focused on something I see every day and often take for granted.

It’s a plain white tin that was decorated with craft paint years ago, twenty to be exact, by my son when he was 6.

On the tin is a picture he painted of our yellow canoe, the same one we used this past weekend–except that it’s now fully custom camouflaged (a fun weekend project about 10 years ago that involved everyone in the Jackson clan pitching in with their artistic talents).

The two people fishing in the canoe? You guessed it, my son and me . . . together.

Relationships are like any other investment–if you don’t invest over the long haul, you’ll never reap any of the rewards long term.

That little tin is a precious reminder to me of good times past that began well before he was six. And they are still paying off today at 26 with good times present. The conversations around the campfire have deepened over the years to be sure, but the joy of sharing these times together I’ll treasure for a lifetime. And I’m looking forward with anticipation to good times future as well.

So, to you dad’s out there listening, take the time to invest early. Whether you have sons or daughters makes no difference, except in the kinds of activities you may enjoy together. Invest early and invest a lot. You’ll never regret investing relationally in your children. However, you will regret it if you don’t. I’ve counseled with many fathers to are haunted by grief over missed opportunities that are long since past.

Don’t wait! Invest now.

Here’s the good news for those dads who missed out on the earlier times: It’s not over. Please don’t allow the past to discourage you from starting now. That’s exactly what Satan would love for you to do. Don’t give in to that lie.

Regrets over what you didn’t do in the past can be a killer. It shuts down involvement in the present because of guilt and shame over past failures. That’s what makes God’s forgiveness so critical. Forgiveness releases us from the guilt of the past to reengage in loving well in the present. It’s never too late to respond well.

If your son is all grown up, still start now. It may be a hunting weekend, a boat show, rebuilding an old car together, helping him with his home repairs, or grabbing a pair of tickets to go watch your favorite college football team. Find something that you can begin to hang out together over–investing time, emotional energy, and conversation. Don’t push. Just relax and let the relationship simmer for a while. And over time, hopefully, the conversations will come.

If it’s your daughter, it may mean taking the “masculine risk” of stepping out of your comfort zone and  inviting her to the local art show or street fair, taking her to dinner and a movie (her choice–yes, you can handle a chick flick and still be manly), shopping for a day together at the mall (and letting her choose all the stores), helping her repair her car (or being the guy who finds and negotiates with the mechanic about the repair), or simply asking her out to breakfast.

Remember: you can’t reap dividends if you don’t invest. Invest well, often, and generously. And trust God for the results. You’ll never regret it.

Now I’m sure that many of you dads have unique stories of your own to share that would provide helpful examples to the rest of us of how you’ve invested in your kids, where you’ve missed it, how you’ve recovered from missing it, and where you’re currently enjoying some of the long term dividends.

Regardless of where you are in this journey as a dad, we’d love for you to encourage one another here with your stories (Heb. 3:13).